Thursday, November 1, 2012

Columnist gives stories behind state ballot issues

By Barry Eberling
From page A1 | November 01, 2012 | Leave Comment

FAIRFIELD — Political columnist Dan Walters on Wednesday shared views on the upcoming election that go beyond what can be found in advertisements or the voter’s pamphlet.

Walters, who writes for the Sacramento Bee and whose columns appear in the Daily Republic, talked about many of the 11 propositions, including Proposition 40, which addresses redistricting, and Proposition 30, which is a tax measure backed by Gov. Jerry Brown. He compared the behind-the-scenes maneuverings to a popular Mad magazine Cold War comic feature.

“That’s what a lot of this is about, it’s ‘Spy vs. Spy’,” Walters said.

Walters spoke at the monthly Solano Economic Development Corp. breakfast. More than 100 civic and business leaders attended the event at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Proposition 30 would increase the state sales tax by 0.25 percent and increase taxes on the wealthy. Its failure would supposedly trigger $6 billion in budget cuts that mostly affect education, though Walters said education advocates could challenge the trigger cuts in court.

An audience member asked what would happen if the measure fails, which Walters said could well happen.

The hole in the state budget would be $10 billion to $11 billion, not $6 billion, Walters said. That’s because other revenue is less than what the state is expecting.

“Political war would break out,” Walters said. “How many of you are here from county government? You’re going to be right in the middle of those wars.”

Solano County already faces budget challenges with no changes to the political equation. It faces a general fund structural deficit of about $13.7 million next fiscal year, though it can draw on savings to cover the shortfall.

Fairfield City Councilwoman Catherine Moy asked if cities would be affected by Proposition 30’s fate. Fairfield is struggling with budget shortfalls and has warned of drastic cuts if a proposed 1 percent sales tax on the November ballot fails to pass.

“Cities are probably not in this war,” Walters said. “It would be counties, schools and colleges mostly. They would be fighting over a shrinking pot of money. It will be pretty bloody, I expect.”
But Proposition 30 is bad tax policy, Walters said. Revenues would depend largely on how well about 150,000 people are doing in the capital markets, which is volatile. Plus, it guarantees counties would get $5 billion to help pay for state realignment policies, even though the tax is temporary.

Perhaps the best thing in the long run is for the proposed taxes to be defeated, Walters said. Then Brown and the Legislature might look at tax policies, he said.

An audience member asked about redevelopment. The state in February dissolved redevelopment agencies, such as the one formed by Fairfield. In Fairfield’s case, the lost revenue blew a hole in the city budget. Also, the city over the decades used redevelopment to spur economic development, declaring areas such as Green Valley as blighted so it could spend future property tax increases there on infrastructure.

Redevelopment is dead, despite efforts to revive it under a different name, Walters said. Redevelopment became somewhat of a monster over time, though he understands why cities used it as they did, he said.

“I understand why Fairfield declared swampland to be blighted,” Walters said.

Proposition 40 is a referendum on a redistricting commission’s newly drawn lines for state Senate districts. Walters said Republicans wanted it on the ballot because Democrats under the new lines are likely to get a two-thirds majority in the Senate in Tuesday’s election. Republicans had hoped the proposition would prompt the state Supreme Court to suspend the new district lines for the Senate until the referendum got settled.

But the Supreme Court refused and Republicans lost interest in the issue. Republicans don’t really want voters to overturn the new lines now that the Supreme Court gambit for 2012 has failed. That’s because the party has a chance to pick up seats under the new lines in 2014, Walters said.

Proposition 37 calls for the labeling of genetically altered foods. But, Walters said, the initiative is so complicated that no one knows what it would really do.

“Maybe it’s on purpose,” Walters said. “Confusion is the area in which clever lawyers see the potential for a lot of business.”

Walters described the government reforms called for by Proposition 31 as the latest effort in a cottage industry called “Fixing California.” While Walters expressed doubt that Proposition 31 is the solution, he didn’t question that California needs fixing.

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